Recently in Performances
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power. Under the neon-glare of laboratory strip-lights, the scientists and literary archeologists rout through the relics, scrape away palimpsests, shatter the printing presses, and uncover a shocking tale of violence, sex, suicide and cannibalism. ‘Strip the cities of brick,’ they cry; ‘Cancel all flights from the international airport.’ Yet, despite its ‘distance’ - both historical and aesthetic - this disturbing juxtaposition of innocence and monstrosity unsettles and seeps into our modern consciousness, like ink staining parchment.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with
its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama
Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples
venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and
moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more
positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners
backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern
rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer,
but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard
Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour
franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy
of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such
illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara
Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors
Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark
streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It
is that exclusive—you can’t even find the
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the
final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length
concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated
drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic
concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the
composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who
has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman
composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus
tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra
from the depths of her soul.
Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.
Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.
On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.
Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement,
but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment
“is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga
Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.
29 May 2014
Dmitri Hvorostovsky in Los Angeles
Siberian born baritone, Dmitri Hvorostovsky returned to Dorothy Chandler Hall on May 22nd with a unique all Russian song recital which included songs composed to Pushkin’s poetry and Dmitri Shostakovich’s Suite on Verses of Michelangelo Buonarroti.
Hvorostovsky along with pianist Ivari Ilja, had been touring the United States with this and an alternate all Russian program. Though reviewers agreed that their programs were unvaryingly gloomy, the glamorous and sonorous Hvorostovksy received glowing reviews and attracted large audiences - particularly Russian speakers - wherever he appeared. Likely, he is the only classical vocalist who could have succeeded with such a dark, single language program. Hardly anything new can be added to the myriad descriptions of the dark velvety texture of Hvorostovky’s voice, or to the repeated raves about his breath control and legato singing. Yet perhaps he was a bit worried about introducing all that gloom to Southern California. As though his natural good looks, silver hair and easy smile might not be enough to carry Angelinos through two hours of minor keyed laments on lost loves, anger and death, the baritone appeared in an outfit on the Liberace side of stage wear: a form fitting tuxedo with long glitter-paved lapels. A flashing pendant and ring added to his sparkle.
He didn’t need it. His presence and voice were enough. Where a powerful baritone voice, such as Hvorostovsky possesses can be fully released in opera houses in roles such as Iago, in Otello or di Luna in Il Trovatore, song recitals are more intimate affairs. They require more varied gradations of sound and subtler techniques to communicate the meaning of every word, every musical phrase. Few opera singers have this gift. Hvorostovsky is able to move his audience’s emotions with the slightest gradations of sound, the most minimal motion of head, or hand. However, for this performance, most unusually for a recitalist, (and distractingly, for his audience), he kept an enlarged score on a music stand, to which he referred throughout the program.
The composers the Pushkin songs ranged from Glinka, a Pushkin’s contemporary to Sviridov, who was born in 1915 and lived until 1998. I have no idea of the quality of any of the Pushkin poems in Russian. One has to assume they were meaningful enough to inspire composers. However, many of the unattributed translations in the program were surprisingly lackluster and unpoetic and Hvorostovky’s interpretations for whatever reason, echoed this impression. The music of the earliest of these composition, particularly, seemed almost a warm up for the baritone. The more harmonically elaborate later songs by Nicolai Medtner and Sviridov were more compelling both for the singer and his audience. The Medtner songs too, offered the first of many opportunities for Ivari Ilja to display his virtuosity.
Shostakovitch came upon Michelangelo’s sonnets in 1974, shortly after they appeared in a Russian translation by Avram Efros. Many of these poems, written in the Italian artist’s late years, reflected the composer’s own regrets, angers and the despair he was suffering during the last years of his own troubled life. Shostakovich chose eleven sonnets, which he titled “Truth” “Morning”; “Love” “Separation” “Anger,” “Dante,” “To an Exile,” “Creativity,” “Night,” “Death” and “Immortality.” He scored them starkly for piano and bass voice, and once described the suite as consisting of “lyricism, and tragedy, and drama, and two ecstatic panegyrics in honor of Dante.” Although Shostakovich is said to have told composer Aram Katchaturian that he did not intend to orchestrate the work, he did so just before his death in August 1975, and never heard the orchestral version. Dark and depressing, even angry as these songs are, they grip the soul. The Chandler Hall audience was not asked to withhold its applause at any time during the program and rewarded each and every one of Hvorostovky’s Pushkin songs enthusiastically While the lyricism, intensity and devotion to text that Hvorostovsky brought to the Shostakovich-Michelangelo suite could not restrain the baritone’s devoted fans from responding to each song, the applause was pallid, brief and restrained as though they were torn between wanting to express their joys at hearing an adored artist, and awareness of the somber message he was delivering.
Hvorostovsky rewarded his adoring public with three encores, an impassioned Iago’s Credo, the lyrical Valente-TagliagerriPassione, and an a capella rendering of Goodbye Happiness, a Russian folk song. Each displayed a different aspect of Hvorostovsky’s artistry and stirred his audience to wild cheers, but did nothing to elevate the evening’s downbeat philosophical message.